Month: August 1998

Forgotten History

Histories of World War II usually focus only on the details of troop movements and engagements, or on the evils of the Nazis and fascism, as if they arose in isolation and are an aberration of history confined to the early 20th Century. A broader look at the war is important to any discussion of whether it was a “good” war, but it’s also necessary to our understanding of how we decide which wars are “good” or “bad” today.

Howard Zinn, in his essay “Just and Unjust War” (originally published in Declarations of Independence and recently reprinted in The Zinn Reader) reviews some of the ignored or forgotten aspects of WWII and asks whether it really was a “just” war. His further goal is to understand whether our complacency in accepting that some wars can be “good” wars is behind our acceptance of U.S. policy makers’ decisions to bomb other countries today.

First, Zinn reviews evidence that the U.S. entered the war for imperialist reasons and to expand U.S. economic interests abroad, rather than to fight fascism. For example, while the U.S. government prohibited weapons sales to Italy after it invaded Ethiopia, the government still allowed U.S. companies to sell oil to Italy. During the Spanish Civil War, Roosevelt’s Neutrality Act, which prevented nations from providing aid to the Republican government of Spain, allowed the fascist side to prevail with direct support from Hitler and Mussolini. Nor did German invasions of Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland produce any response from the U.S. government. One U.S. State Department official, James E. Miller, noted that “American aid certainly reinforced the hold of Fascism.”

Nor did the plight of European Jews draw notice from the U.S. government. In fact, in 1934, the State Department was instrumental in killing an early Senatorial resolution expressing “surprise and pain” at the German treatment of its Jewish population and asking for restoration of Jewish rights. During the height of Hitler’s extermination program in 1942 and 1943, the U.S. and British governments missed several opportunities to save the lives of Jews in occupied territories, not the least of which was the opportunity to bomb railroad lines leading to the death camps, especially the notorious Auschwitz.

Zinn quotes a Princeton historian, Arno Mayer, in his book “Why Did the Heavens Not Darken” regarding one of the most controversial aspects of the Holocaust. Mayer maintains that the war itself may have brought on the Final Solution. Not that Mayer’s motive is to remove blame from the Nazis, but he suggests that “frenzy of war acting on distorted minds” brought about the psychotic extermination of millions of people. He notes that Hitler’s early plans were for emigration, not extermination, and Raul Hilberg in his book on the Holocaust supports this: “From 1938 to 1940, Hitler made extraordinary and unusual attempts to bring about a vast emigration scheme … The Jews were not killed before the emigration policy was literally exhausted.” It didn’t help, of course, that western nations, including the U.S., refused to take large numbers of Jewish refugees.

At home, the war was greeted with enthusiasm by the bulk of Americans, yet a large number of dissidents emerged, in spite of a gung-ho government and press that bombarded Americans with pro-war propaganda. Many noted that the war was being fought to protect U.S. tin, oil, and rubber interests in Southeast Asia. Corporations and wealthy men made enormous fortunes during the war, while workers’ wages were frozen and pressure was put on labor unions not hold strikes. Nevertheless, 14,000 strikes involving 6 million workers occurred during the war, more than at any other time in U.S. history.

While Jews were being exterminated in Germany, minorities in the U.S. suffered harsh treatment, too. Black soldiers fought in the U.S. military, but were segregated into separate fighting units, and often given the worst and most dangerous assignments. Here are the words of one student, repeated by NAACP leader, Walter White: “The Army jim-crows us. The Navy lets us serve only as messmen. The Red Cross refuses our blood. Employers and labor unions shut us out. Lynchings continue. We are disenfranchised, jim-crowed, spat upon. What more could Hitler do than that?”

An estimated 110,000 Japanese-American men, women, and children (three-fourths of them born in the U.S.) were imprisoned in internment camps in 1942, when Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. All of them lost businesses, homes, property, and many lost elderly or ill family members while living in the camps under makeshift, prison-like conditions. Such treatment was not confined only to the U.S., however. In England, people with Germanic names (including many Jewish refugees) and people of Italian ancestry were also imprisoned.

WWII saw the birth of literally the worst aspect of modern warfare: the deliberate targeting and saturation bombing of civilian populations. Early in the war, Italy bombed civilians in Ethiopia, Japan targeted Chinese civilians, and Germany and Italy helped bomb civilian centers during the Spanish Civil War. But were the Allies any better? In fact, U.S. and British planes routinely targeted civilians in France, Germany, and Southeast Asia. The U.S. military’s official stance was that these towns were military centers and strategically important to crippling Germany’s war effort. These targets, however, included working class residential areas of industrial cities–killing the workers would prove as effective as bombing military installations, in the minds of Western policy makers.

Thousands of planes flew over Germany, France, Hungary, and other regions. British planes did night-time “area bombing,” while U.S. planes flew during the daytime, in a pretense of precision bombing. Zinn himself joined the Air Force in 1943 and trained as a gunner, then flew numerous bombing raids over Europe. He points out that during training, bombers flew over practice targets at an altitude of 4,000 feet and could drop a bomb within 20 feet of their intended target, but at 11,000 feet, their bombs were more likely to be 200 feet off target. During actual combat missions, bombers routinely flew at 30,000 feet and often missed their mark by a quarter of a mile. The sheer number of Allied planes and bombs deployed after the U.S. entered the war vastly outnumbered anything the Axis had deployed. The effects of this saturation bombing could be enormously and indiscriminately destructive, as accounts of the fire-bombing of Dresden attest.

But the damage wasn’t limited to Europe, as Zinn notes: “The policy of saturation bombing became even more brutal when B29s, which carried twice the bombload as the planes we flew in Europe, attacked Japanese cities with incendiaries, turning them into infernos.” In only one nighttime attack on Tokyo, 100,000 civilians were killed and over a million left homeless by massive fires. A line had been crossed; once civilian targets became acceptable, anything was possible–including the use of atomic weapons on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Zinn eloquently sums up his essay with the following words: “The good cause in World War II was the defeat of fascism. And, in fact, it ended with that defeat: the corpse of Mussolini hanging in the public square in Milan; Hitler burned to death in his underground bunker; Tojo, captured and sentenced to death by an international tribunal. But forty million people were dead, and the elements of fascism–militarism, racism, imperialism, dictatorship, ferocious nationalism, and war–were still at large in the postwar world.

… The practical effect of declaring World War II just is not for that war, but for the wars that follow. And that effect has been a dangerous one, because the glow of rightness that accompanied that war has been transferred, by false analogy and emotional carryover, to other wars. To put it another way, perhaps the worst consequence of World War II is that it kept alive the idea that war could be just.

Looking at World War II in perspective, looking at the world it created and the terror that grips our century, should we not bury for all time the idea of just war?”

The above quotes are from “Just and Unjust War,” by Howard Zinn, reprinted in The Zinn Reader, Seven Stories Press, 632 Broadway, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10012, 1997.

 

Disapproval Rating

U.S. newspapers reported without irony that most U.S. allies approved unequivocally of missile attacks on targets in Afghanistan and Sudan. That may be true of Israel and U.S. allies in Europe, but in the Middle East, anger and condemnation were the rule. Here’s a little taste of how our Middle Eastern “allies” responded:

Pakistan is noted for being a strong U.S. ally in the region, but they were highly upset to learn that U.S. warships had fired 70 or more Tomahawk cruise missiles directly over their airspace without asking permission first. They were even more incensed to learn that the flight-path was directly over the Indus River valley, which includes the most highly-populated areas of Pakistan. In addition, the Afghan targets were 600-700 miles from the Arabian Sea, where the missiles were fired, and the Tomahawk has a range of only 700 or so miles.

“The government of Pakistan expresses indignation at the U.S. strikes at Afghanistan and Sudan,” Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz said, while thousands of demonstrators burned effigies of Bill Clinton in Karachi. Aziz went on to say that the U.S. had not asked to use any facilities in Pakistan to help with the attack, and: “In future also we would not provide any such assistance. We call upon all countries to respect the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Afghanistan and Sudan, and express our solidarity with their peoples.”

The Egyptian government refused to make any statement about the attacks, but Egyptian newspapers were not so quiet. An editorial in al-Ahram al-Massai read: “The agents of terrorism have given Washington the reason to exercise the arrogance of power when it gave itself the right to strike two sovereign states without the permission of the (U.N.) Security Council.” Hussein Amin, a lecturer on Islamic studies at the American University in Cairo, said: “What happened will certainly accelerate terrorism. Moslem nations are powerless before the might of the United States and find terrorism their only way out. This will happen as long as America stands over the world, ready to strike its enemies with a big stick.”

The government of Jordan also remained silent, but emphasized the need for dialogue and not and escalation of violence.

Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had condemned the attacks on the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, also had harsh words for the U.S. attack, saying it violated “international norms and human rights.”

Qatar’s independent newspaper, al-Sharq, said that by launching the missile attacks, the U.S. has resorted to the “law of the jungle in handling international problems.”

“Clinton attempts to cover up scandal with aggression against Sudan and Afghanistan,” read the headline of Lebanon’s most widely-read newspaper, as-Safir.

Recognizing that the missiles are a signal to Arab governments in the region that they should acquiesce to U.S. demands, Senior Palestinian negotiator Hassan Asfour said: “We are against any attack on any Arab state by the United States or by any other country … Terrorism has many manifestations. Killing of Palestinians by Israeli settlers was another way of terrorism. I call upon the international community to put limits on the American explanation for the term terrorism.”

In Africa, the widely-respected Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which has worked for decades for peace in Africa, condemned the attacks and called instead for a coordinated fight against terrorism, rather than a unilateral response by the U.S. only. An unnamed African diplomat expressed his opinion about the attack on Sudan: “It’s going to improve the position of the Sudan government, at least in the short term. The way I see it is that America is losing the image battle in the Middle East and North Africa and it’s getting worse after this Sudanese attack.”

And then, finally, there are statements from the governments of Afghanistan and Sudan. Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar in Afghanistan responded to the attacks: “This attack is not against Osama but it is a demonstration of enmity for the Afghan people.” Sudanese Information Minister Ghazi Salahuddin said this about the bombed factory: “It has been visited by heads of state. We condemn this criminal act.”

But the Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir had the final word, saying that Sudan “reserves the right to respond to the American attack using all necessary measures.”

Now is that any way to make peace in the Middle East?

Quotes for this article came from: “Pakistan says hit by U.S. strike, outraged” by Raja Asghar, Reuters, Aug. 21; “Arab world enraged by U.S. missile strikes” by Michael Georgy, Reuters, Aug. 21; “OAU deplore civilian casualties in U.S. attacks,” Reuters, Aug. 21; “Yemen condemns U.S. missile attack in Sudan,” Reuters, Aug. 21; Afghans, Sudanese Respond With Defiance,” Reuters, Aug. 21; and “Sudanese Gather at Bombed Factory” by Mohammed Osman, Associated Press, Aug. 21.

Real Terrorists

As FBI agents pulled rubble from the bombed embassy buildings in Kenya and Tanzania this past week, they uncovered clues about who was responsible for the blasts. But as they shifted beams and moved broken furniture, did they also peel back layers of history to find out who gave birth to modern terrorism?

If so, the media missed it. Western newspapers and wire services stuck to the superficial story. They all had their favorite candidates for “terrorist of the moment”: Iranians, Syrians, Libyans, Iraqis, Sudanese, even Albanian Muslims. (Wasn’t that in “Wag the Dog”?) To lift a quote from Robert Kupperman, a so-called “terrorism expert”: “The Arabs did it.” As if that were all we needed to know.

But even if–if–that were true, there’s so much more to know, all of it important for understanding the real source of modern terrorism, and who should take the blame for it.

As of last Friday, August 14, the FBI and military intelligence focused their investigation of the bombings on one man: a wealthy, Saudi Arabian businessman named Osama bin Laden.

Now Saudi Arabia is one of our allies, right? So why would a Saudi businessman plant bombs outside U.S. embassies? Well, a major reason is that bin Laden was a former ally of the U.S. The CIA and Saudi intelligence heavily utilized his services during the Civil War in Afghanistan, where he served as a major “point man” for the distribution of millions of dollars in cash and weapons to the Moujahedeen rebels, and where he led his own fighting force of 10,000 men. In addition, he may have built up his vast wealth from both the black market arms trade and the local heroin trade that flourished during and after the war. Certainly, he has benefited from learning guerrilla warfare techniques taught to the Moujahedeen by the CIA–including the art of exploding car bombs outside government and public buildings in order to kill as many people, including civilians, as possible.

But, as we’ve seen with various dictators throughout history–for example, Manuel Noriega or Saddam Hussein–such dogs will often turn on their masters. In the case of fundamentalist Muslim mercenaries who fought in Afghanistan, this has proved to be the rule. The Afghanistan Civil War attracted mercenaries, arms dealers, drug runners, and fanatics from countries all over the world. The only common denominators among them were a very strict interpretation of the Koran and a hatred for both the U.S. and the Soviet Union as secular nations (and especially the U.S. for its support of Israel–although this never stopped them from taking our money and weapons to fight a “holy war”). Once the civil war ended in 1992 and these mercenaries were left to drift, they took their terrorist training, weapons, and drug money off to fight guerrilla wars in India, Kashmir, The Philippines, Sudan, and perhaps also Algeria. Some of them landed in Egypt, where they formed the Islamic Gama’at, a group that bombed tourist facilities and government offices; they were responsible for the Luxor massacre last November of 62 people, most of them tourists. Also, a small group of Moujahedeen veterans ended up in the U.S., where they bombed the World Trade Center in 1993.

Bin Laden is joining the ranks of such people–in fact, he may be leading a coalition of them in a holy war against the U.S., his former master. He currently resides in Afghanistan under the protection of the repressive Taliban government, and reportedly has access to plenty of weapons, explosives, and high tech equipment, including the ability to rent satellite space in order to send and receive messages. Of course, he is able to prosper because of the greed of arms manufacturers.

After decades of war in such places as Mozambique, Angola, Zaire, Rwanda, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Algeria, Chad, Nigeria, Liberia, Morocco, Western Sahara, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Northern Pakistan, and the former Soviet republics, large portions of Africa and the Middle East have been turned into an enormous arms bazaar–the largest arms market in the world. And the U.S. has directly benefited from wars that have devastated entire countries, because the U.S. is the world’s largest arms merchant.

Last year U.S. companies sold $15.2 billion worth of weapons, about 44 percent of the total share of the global arms trade. In addition, developing countries are our largest customers. Saudi Arabia is at the top of the list, with $11 billion in new purchases last year, and Egypt, Iran, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates are not far behind.

As long as these countries need to keep U.S.-trained terrorists at bay, they’ll need our weapons. What better way to ensure profits than to train fanatics and mercenaries and let them loose on the world? Unfortunately, there’s still the matter of blame for the deaths of over 250 people in Kenya and Tanzania. But for U.S. arms dealers, and their champion in the White House, those people are just “collateral damage.” And for the network news guys looking for gripping imagery in the rubble, following the trails of blood and money from their reputable boardroom sources is apparently too complex a story.

The City’s Checkbook

Last year we looked at the King County budget to find out what services King County government really provides to people. The answer was: mostly jails and buses. A similar examination of the City of Seattle’s budget is long overdue.

The City of Seattle sets a new budget every two years when they start a new “budget biennium”. Currently the city is in the middle of the second year of its 1997/1998 budget biennium, and we can see from current numbers exactly what our city’s priorities have been for the last two years.

First of all, the City gets most of its revenue from two sources: taxes ($461 million) and service charges ($822 million). The rest of its income comes from federal and state grants ($111 million), license and permit fees ($28 million), fines ($16 million), donations ($1 million), “Miscellaneous Revenues” ($96 million) and “Other Financing Sources” ($351 million). Total inflows were $1.85 billion dollars for 1997 and projected inflows for 1998 are $1.9 billion.

Expenses are broken down by department, and not all departments are equal, as the budget allocations show. Here’s where the City puts its money:

Utilities and Transportation: $1.1 billion. This department includes City Light, Seattle Public Utilities (water, sewer, drainage, and solid waste), and transportation services paid for by the city, as opposed to those paid for by the county.

Public Safety: $247.4 million. This is for police, fire departments, and the Municipal Court.

Health, Human Services, and Recreation: $242 million. This catch-all category includes Arts, Health, Housing, Libraries, and Parks and Recreation.

Development, Neighborhoods, and Planning: $28.7 million. The bulk of this money goes for construction and land use (80%), neighborhoods (17%), and the Hearing Examiner (2%), with a tiny pittance left over for the Planning Commission (less than 1%). Surprised?

General Government and Administration: $153 million. You can guess what this covers, but I’ll get into that in more detail below.

Other: $127 million. The “Other” category seems to be the waste-bin for ignored budget items, like: Bonds Debt Service ($57 million), emergency reserve funds ($7 million), “Finance General” ($52 million), and the Judgment & Claims Subfund ($9 million). Oddly, it also includes the Low Income Housing Fund ($0), and the Neighborhood Matching Fund ($1.5 million). While the other departments had detailed descriptions of what was included in their figures, the explanation for the “Other” category was mysteriously missing from the city’s budget Web page (at www.pan.ci.seattle.wa.us/budget), so we’re left to guess what “Finance General” means. If it refers to debt payments or principal payments on debt, then the city spends about 5.7% of its income on debt servicing. Unfortunately, the budget gives no figures for what the city owes in debts (how convenient!).

Now, within the city budget for 1998 there are few interesting details. The total budget increase over 1997 is about $80 million, and that increase went to some interesting budget items.

Police: + $5 million. Well, you can guess why: it’s a political decision. People are afraid of crime and nothing gets people (especially well-educated, well-heeled people) to vote for you than promising more money to fight crime. Never mind that serious crime (including murder, rape, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries, thefts, and auto thefts) in the Seattle area has fallen steadily since 1987. It’s also interesting to note that, while the budget for the police department has increased, the budget for the “Professional Responsibility Bureau” was cut in half. This special police bureau recruits employees to “fulfill the department’s affirmative action goals.” Here we can see I-200 in action, even before it’s been passed! Some of the money saved from this budget cut undoubtedly went for the new sergeant to train 100 cops to deal with mentally ill folks holed up in their apartments with guns (I’m not kidding) … or to fund a startling increase in overtime hours the police department claimed in 1997.

Utilities and Transportation: + $64 million. Whoa! Here we can see the direct costs of our “booming economy”: water shortages, overflowing sewers, drainage problems, tons of garbage …

Health, Human Services, and Recreation: + $3 million. Priorities, priorities. Most of this increase went to Parks and Recreation, Libraries, and the Seattle Center (+ $6 million), while the Housing and Human Services budget dropped by $3.1 million. That’s the way to solve Seattle’s housing crisis! To be fair, a lot of the money for Housing and Human Services used to come from federal and state grants, but with a reactionary legislature at both levels, the tap is being rapidly shut off, especially for family and youth services. Keep that in mind this November when various local incumbents beg for your vote.

General Government and Administration: + $8 million. The biggest winner here was the Executive’s Office, which has several departments, three of which saw funding increases this year. The Office of The Mayor (which surprisingly still lists Norm Rice as Mayor–oops!) gained $576,000 this year. The Neighborhood Planning Office, which is busy completing 37 neighborhood plans (mostly to benefit local businesses), gained $786,000. The grand prize winner, however, is the Office of Economic Development, which gained $4.2 million over last year. In fact, this office was only supposed to get a total of $2.5 million this year, but when the final figures were approved, it magically received a boost to $6.3 million, probably at the request of our development-happy Mayor, Paul Schell.

I was curious about this magic money shift: just what would those funds be used for? Here’s a partial description of the Office of Economic Development, directly from the city’s budget page: “The office advocates inside City government for improvements to processes, policies, and regulations that impact Seattle business, manufacturing/industrial areas, and other key business districts. It works to help individual businesses needing City government services, provides access to capital for small businesses, and staffs the Mayor’s Small Business Task Force.” In other words, it’s a corporate pork barrel. As if we need more businesses, more growth, more people, more cars, etc.

Here’s another detail from the list of services provided by the Office of Economic Development: “The office will help the Downtown Seattle Association establish a Downtown Umbrella Business Improvement Association”–just one of many ways that Paul Schell can pay back his biggest supporters and largest campaign contributors.

So that’s where the City puts its money: utilities, cops, construction, parks, and pork barrel. Are you feeling well-served?

Sam’s Farm Days

“Moo”-ville

When I came to Seattle in 1983, I quickly learned that city people knew almost nothing about farm life. Whenever I mentioned that I grew up on a dairy farm, eyes rolled and I’d be treated to jokes about “hicks” and “farmers’ daughters” or the patronizing tones of “how nice, that must have been fun!”

To which my reply was always: “Not really, it was a hell of a lot of hard work. Not like sitting on your ass in an office”…which is a good way to end a conversation. After a while, I just stopped mentioning the dairy farm and told people I was from Pierce County. Then I was treated to another session of eye-rolling and “aroma of Tacoma” jokes. After a few years, I started telling folks “I’m from here.” Nowadays I don’t have to tell anyone where I’m from, they just assume I grew up here. Which has somehow made me indignant. Now I vehemently announce: “From Seattle? Not on your life! I was born on a dairy farm in rural Pierce County, goddammit!”

You’ll have to excuse the cussin’–it comes with the territory.

As a single, unattached woman in her 30s, I’ve recently had a lot of opportunities to do the “where are you from?” conversation, especially with men. Invariably, when I say “I grew up on a dairy farm,” they almost immediately smile and try to make a mooing sound of some kind. At first I thought they were strangling or having a heart attack, but then I realized I had discovered some kind of reflexive spot in the urban male’s brain: mention cows and they moo…or try to.

The problem with this reaction is that men can’t moo worth a shit–it takes a woman to know how to moo. Cows are female, after all. The closest a man can get is to sound like he’s barfing up his lunch. Rural men, on the other hand, can do a fairly good imitation of a bull’s bellow (it’s an art, believe me). But urban men have never heard the wide range and variety of the bovine voice, much less the difference between a cow’s commandments and a bull’s outright bragging.

Which led me to think about where cows fit in the vocal range of the farm animal choir. Starting at the top, you have chicken sopranos, equine mezzo-sopranos, goats covering the alto range, and cows down among the ranks of contraltos. On the male side of the choir, you’ll find pig falsettos, stallion tenors, ram baritones, and bulls holding up the bass line, with the occasional border collie adding fullness to the middle range. And just like in many human choirs, the females outnumber the males.

There’s a reason for that. On the farm, female animals are both easier to work with and more productive. You see, female animals know how to communicate with you; they know how to listen and respond. Male animals, on the other hand, think they own the world and they just do whatever they want in spite of you. Feel free to attribute that statement to my gender bias as a woman, to reverse sexism, to the fact that I’m a hick, whatever. But it’s true.

Also, female animals are more productive, for two reasons: they get pregnant and have babies, and they give milk. Feel free to attribute this statement to my gender bias, etc., etc. It also happens to be true.

Which brings me to the real difference between female calves and male calves. (I’m not talking about legs! You city folks are mighty dim: “calves” are bovine babies, fer Chrissakes.) On every dairy farm, female or “heifer” calves are highly prized, because they grow up to be productive members of the herd; they have more calves and make lots of milk. Male or “bull” calves, on the other hand, are sent off to be sold for veal–although occasionally we keep one (you know, just to keep the babies coming). Sound inhumane? Of course it is–but just keep that in mind the next time you’re dining on veal in an expensive restaurant. You can take a bite and think to yourself: “Maybe Sam knew his mama!”

I don’t eat veal. I’ve taken care of too many calves, both male and female, and I know how badly veal calves are treated (even if they are arrogant, head-butting males): kept in cramped pens where they can’t turn around and often can’t lay down, fed only fatty liquids and antibiotics which give them the runs, forced to lay in their own shit, and then slaughtered when they’re only a few weeks old. Veal is by far the most inhumane product of modern dairy farming.

Yet not all dairy bull calves go to veal farms. Some go to beef ranches or feed lots, are neutered, and become steers raised for beef. Feed lots are only slightly better than veal farms, in that the steers get to live a little longer and may actually see some sunshine once in a while. As you eat that hamburger, you can think to yourself: “Maybe Sam knew his mama!”

I probably did. Just don’t moo when I tell you I grew up on dairy farm. Please. I’ll be thinking to myself: “My God! He’s barfing up that veal dinner!”

 

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